It was a case of kiss-and-make-up for Russia’s top investigator and the editor of the country’s leading opposition newspaper on Thursday – only a day after the journalist had accused the policeman of threatening to kill one of his staff.
The row, which had briefly consumed Russian politicians, bloggers and celebrities, ended when Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor’s office – equivalent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation – gave Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a hug and apologised for losing his temper.
It was a farcical ending to a mysterious set of events that was set in motion after Novaya Gazeta, a respected publication highly critical of the Kremlin, published an article on June 4 alleging that Mr Bastrykin had colluded with a criminal gang.
The author of the article, Novaya’s deputy editor Sergei Sokolov, fled the country after he alleged that he was in effect kidnapped by Mr Bastrykin on the day the article appeared and told he would be killed.
On Wednesday, Mr Muratov publicly accused Mr Bastrykin of making the threat and asked that he guarantee Mr Sokolov’s safety.
For his part, in a rebuttal published on Thursday in Izvestia newspaper, the top investigator said he had merely invited Mr Sokolov on a trip to southern Russia in order to introduce him to the investigators he had written about so critically, but the two men had rowed during a public dressing-down by Mr Bastrykin in the southern city of Nalchik.
In an open letter Mr Muratov had accused the investigator of taking the argument further and that, upon arriving back in Moscow, he had placed Mr Sokolov in a car and driven him to a forest where he “rudely threatened my deputy’s life”. Mr Bastrykin called this “a straight lie” and said Mr Muratov’s account was a “boorish and outrageous article”.
Mr Bastrykin is a close friend and former law school classmate of Vladimir Putin, the president. As such he is an instrumental figure in the Kremlin’s “power vertical” of authoritarian rule – and the public recriminations had pushed the police apparatus in the news spotlight.
But as the scandal threatened to deepen, with Russian celebrities and even United Russia members tweeting their views on the police chief, it seemed all of a sudden to blow over in a flurry of mutual embraces and apologies.
“I did not have a right to lose my temper, but I lost my temper,” said Mr Bastrykin, according to Interfax news agency. Mr Muratov in turn said the “scandal has run its course”.